The use of drugs to treat ADHD increased 63 percent among girls and 33 percent among boys, and the use of antidepressants rose 7 percent among girls compared with 4 percent among boys.
"Whether the increased use of medications is a good thing really depends on your perspective," said study co-author Emily R. Cox, manager of outcomes research at Express Scripts Inc., in St. Louis. "Most people who would look at these numbers would indicate that these are worrisome trends."
"We need to understand what is driving this increase," Cox said. "Really, these are symptoms of underlying problems."
As the number of obese children increases, the number of children with chronic diseases is also increasing, Cox said. "That they are being treated is a good thing," she said. "The concern is, are doctors more likely to use drug therapy over diet and exercise?"
Dr. Michael Artman, head of the department of pediatrics at the University of Iowa, is concerned that children with chronic health problems who have private health insurance are getting better care than similar children who rely on government programs or who have no health insurance.
"I can imagine that the need is as great or even greater among disadvantaged children," Artman said. "We know the prevalence of those chronic conditions in disadvantaged socioeconomic classes is greater. This is kind of the tip of the iceberg in children's prescribing."
Artman also noted there is more data on prescribing medications to children, which makes doctors more confident in prescribing and means that children are getting better care.
"Now we actually have data on drug effects and side effects and toxicity and efficacy in children that we didn't have two or three decades ago," he said. "This is an important advance in pediatric medicine."
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